‘Memories of Paradise’ – Legacies of Socialist Mobility

Before 1989, ‘socialist’ countries pursued international development initiatives that differed from those by ‘Western’ countries, in particular in the field of cooperation in the education sector.

One such initiative between the former Germany Democratic Republic and Mozambique, the School of Friendship in Staßfurt, saw a cohort of 899 Mozambican children spend their secondary schooling in an East-German boarding school between 1982 and 1989.  The fall of the Berlin Wall coincided with their return to Mozambique, a country itself strongly affected by the end of the Cold War and a change from socialist post-liberation state to a model of capitalist development. This project, based on life history interviews with a sample of participants, analysed how the skills and experiences acquired abroad have been decisive for their future, and more generally their identity and sense of belonging. The project has relevance beyond those personal histories and this particular case study, as it shows in exemplary fashion opportunities and pitfalls of socialist mobility and cosmopolitanism. Not least because the initiative provided a cohort of Mozambicans with opportunities that today do not exist in any comparable way, the project also raises questions about whether contemporary development assistance could learn from some of the initiatives that characterised cooperation between former socialist countries.

This project was led by Dr Tanja R. Müller. It was funded by the Nuffield Foundation


The project findings demonstrate that in a rather paradoxical way, the School of Friendship (SdF) was successful in creating socialist citizens as envisaged in an almost mythical way by Samora Machel, the first post-independence president of then socialist Mozambique. Their understanding of socialist citizenship was based on a socialist ideal that even during the lifetime of Samora Machel was in many ways different from the reality within Mozambique and the FRELIMO party. 

The SdF thus educated a cohort of people who came to regard socialist solidarity as a key component of their identity. At the same time, they interpreted what a socialist citizen is or should be in their own way, thus using their education as what Bourdieu calls a strategy-generating institution. This understandings of socialist citizenship enabled many of its graduates to navigate the post-socialist political order, thus it is not simply a nostalgic reminder of a golden past, but exposes the frictions between ideals of socialist solidarity and the political reality of a post-colonial state in the Third World.

This speaks to the wider literature that interrogates forms of socialist cosmopolitanism during the time of the Cold War and distinct avenues of mobility created through those. In all these endeavours, tensions between individual aspirations and socialist vanguard ideology have come to the fore in different ways, and might best be analysed through the lived experiences of people who undertook those journeys.

In conclusion, the SdF was a unique opportunity for those who participated in it, not mainly in terms of offering education and training, but in transporting socialist values as a strategy-generating institution into their future lives. SdF graduates have prospered in a way that would not have been possible at the time without socialism and its interpretation of solidarity, a solidarity that found its material expression in the creation of the SdF and other educational exchange and scholarship programmes – however flawed this concept of solidarity was on the edges, partly based on the self-interests of the ruling parties and their elites on all sides.

In that sense the former GDR provided an important way for freeing the mind and opening new avenues of learning and understanding the world for those who attended the SdF, which makes the SdF an important example of socialist cosmopolitanism with important lessons for the present –the latter too often side-lined or ignored.


Impact included invitation to events where the main audiences is not academic, but policy makers, think-tanks and/or the general public. Those included:

  • Invited participant to the workshop ‘Democracy and Economic Inclusion in Mozambique: understanding prospects in the context of the past’, Chatham House, London, 20 June 2018.
  • Invitation by an arts-event in Chimoio, Mozambique, to present my book under the title ‘Escola da Amizade – Legacies of Socialist Solidarity’, 7 November 2014.
  • Invitation by the German embassy in Maputo, Mozambique and the Instituto Cultural Moçambique – Alemanha, to launch my book and give a keynote talk on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall,  6 November 2014.



Academic Journal articles


Academic Invitations:

  • ‘‘Samora’s children’ – the celebration of (post-)socialist citizenship in Mozambique’, invited presentation at the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, Bayreuth, 13-14 October 2017.
  • ‘Mozambique-GDR co-operation: The School of Friendship’, invited presentation at the International Colloquium Of Minds, Migration and Master Narratives: Reframing Labour Migrancy in Mozambique, at ReWork, Humboldt University, Berlin, 20 February 2015.
  • ‘Legacies of Socialist Solidarity – Memories of Paradise or Dreams Collapsed?’, invited lecture at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, 17 April 2015.
  • ‘Legacies of Socialist Solidarity: “Memories of Paradies” or “Dreams collapsed”?, invited presentation for a Socialist Theory & Movements Research Network Seminar, University of Glasgow, 24 February 2015
  • ‘The ‘German children’ of Mozambique: Long-term legacies of a socialist educational experiment’, invited presentation at the Afrika Kolloquium, Humboldt University Berlin, 11 November 2009.

Conference Presentations:

  • ‘The ‘German children’ of Mozambique: Long-term legacies of a socialist educational experiment’ paper presented at the 10th UKFIET International Conference on Education and Development, Oxford, 15-17 September 2009.
  • ‘‘Memories of paradise’ or ‘dreams collapsed’? – Life trajectories of a cohort of Mozambicans after schooling in the former German Democratic Republic’, paper presented at the 3rd European Conference on African Studies, Leipzig, 4-7 June 2009 (funded by the British Academy).
  • ‘Memories of paradise’ - Life journeys of a cohort of Mozambicans after schooling and vocational training in the former German Democratic Republic’, paper presented at the BAICE Conference Internationalisation in Education: Culture, Context and Difference, Glasgow, 4-6 September 2008.